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[REV 25-NOV-2014]

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Back in the Shop: 1926

Back in the Shop: 1926

Rockville, Maryland, circa 1926. "Montgomery County Motor Co." Another look at the service garage. National Photo Company glass negative. View full size.

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Old Sparky

The ignition system on the Model T was very peculiar - even for the time, with a low tension magneto giving power to one coil per cylinder. The magneto didn't give many volts when cranking or at idle, so the trembler coils had to be adjusted to work at the worst possible circumstances, without giving double sparks or misfiring.

Before 1913 this wasn't really sorted out, so many accessory master vibrator coils were sold to give the T a smoother running engine. Later coils were developed so they gave a more even spark, but they still needed regular service since the coil points wore out and needed adjustment. There were simpler devices to test coils, but only a hand cranked coil tester with a flywheel magneto can test for double sparks, so the old testers are still in demand among current model T enthusiasts, even though a modern electronic device (the Strobo-Spark by Fun Projects) has been developed in recent years for the job.

Electric starting was developed for the 1912 Cadillac and became common on other cars soon afterward, though not until 1919 on Fords. Closed cars were standard equipped with starters from then on; the coupe and Fordor in the picture seems to be of 1923-1925 vintage, so they had starters - though every Model T had the hand crank in place too, all the time.

No, wait; it's a rheostat

The round thing is a rheostat--a resistor adjusted with the handle on the front. It is used to set the current (as indicated on the meter above the handle) charging a battery attached to the clip-wires.

It would be powered by DC voltage, maybe from DC mains via the fuzzy thing on the post or a Tungar rectifier somewhere.

The bench thing

... is used to set the points on Model T Ford ignition coils. The flywheel (turned by the crank) and magnets are standard Ford magneto components. The small rectangular opening at the base of the machine hold the coil that is being tested and adjusted.

The wire leads coming from the machine would have been used to more easily start an otherwise balky car if they were connected to terminals on the car's coil box. All garages of any size had one of these machines and they are a very popular and sought-after device to have in the garages of modern-day collectors of Model T Fords.

It's a load

The round thing is a resistive load for testing batteries. The handle on the front selects how many of the big carbon resistors on the back will be used to draw a heavy current from the battery. The meter on the front shows if the battery voltage holds up under the load.

I'd feel more confident about this if the wires to the clips weren't so skinny.

Magneto Coil Tester

That's what the device on the workbench is -- more here.

Bench Device

The item on the bench near the camera is a very specific testing machine for Ford cars - the Model T. Closest to the window is a Model T flywheel, bolted to the front of it can be seen some magnets- 16 if memory serves. In front of the magnets is a metal disc carrying a set of coils- the same number as the magnets. When the handle is turned, the flywheel and its magnets turn past the stationary coils, so producing AC electric current. In the car, with the flywheel in its proper location, that current is fed via a timer to the four ignition coils- one for each spark plug.

Over time the magnets can lose their strength, and therefore produce less current. That machine bench tests the whole assembly.

The Round Thing

I'm guessing that the crank and meter are for testing the Model T magneto, a series of magnets attached to the flywheel that whizzed past stationary coils, inducing a short burst of voltage, enough to fire the ignition. The magnets sometimes weakened. The meter would read the strength, and the jumper cables would allow attachment to a car battery which could re-energize the magnets thru the self-same coils. At least that's my story and I'm sticking to it.

K.R. Wilson

The devise on the bench is a hand cranked coil tester, specifically for Model "T" Fords. It's probably a K.R. Wilson unit. They were an early manufacturer of Ford service tools and equipment.

Magneto Tester?

Only a guess, but my money would be on that tool with the crank being a magneto tester.

Magneto Tester

The widget on the near end of the bench, with the crank, is a magneto tester for Model T Fords like the ones in the photograph. The magneto assembly is normally mounted on the back of the engine, and when removed for service, you could put it on the machine and give it a spin. There is a test magneto mounted to the left-- the larger circular collection of parts. The smaller cylindrical affair at the top contains a voltmeter, with its curved scale just visible, to indicate the magneto output. The test leads are for connecting one of the four spark coils from a 'T, and testing it, as well.

Cadillac was essentially first with the electric starter, offering in 1912. Ford offered it from the late teens, but it was still an expensive option in the 20s.

No Shop Vac

Another super convenience that we take for granted today has not yet blessed this shop: the shop vac.

You can see by the pile of sweepings near the workbench that they did that kind of stuff by hand with a push broom.

That device on the bench

with a crank looks like it might have been used to provide an electrical charge to jump start the cars. It looks like there are cables connected to it with clips for battery terminals. When did electric starters become prevalent?

Pretty simple

The tools are very basic by today's standards, but clearly adequate for the demands of the day. I'd love to have a floor jack like that. It's probably still working fine somewhere. For that matter, I'd love to have one of those cars, too, and I'd actually drive it.

Take Me Back

I would have loved to be a mechanic back then. You saw what was broken and you repaired it. Contrast that with today's automobiles full of computers, modules, black boxes and multiplex wiring, most of it inaccessible. Glad I'm retiring soon.

Where's the tools?

Looking for the $12,000 Snap-On rolling chest filled with high-end tools. I hardly see one wrench in the place. But all you probably needed were a few open-end wrenches to work on cars of that era.

Call me Jack

When I was a teenager, I could walk up to a Model T, grab a wheel by the spokes and lift it off the ground a short distance. It wasn't a completely superhuman feat, as the whole car weighed only something in the neighborhood of 1200 pounds, but I couldn't do it today.

I'm round - what am I?

What's the round piece of equipment with the handle on it that's attached to the workbench?

The Light Car

The front end of a Ford Model T only weighed about 800 lbs so the sturdy little sawhorses were quite reasonable.

OSHA who?

Dig the wooden horses they're using to hold up the front end!


No sissified hydraulic jacks used here. Just pass me that Archimedes jack.

That candid feeling

Goodness, this is much better than the other one, which just made me want to get out and go away.

SHORPY HISTORICAL PHOTO ARCHIVE | History in HD is a vintage photo archive featuring thousands of high-definition images from the 1850s to 1960s. (Available as fine-art prints from the Shorpy Archive.) The site is named after Shorpy Higginbotham, a teenage coal miner who lived 100 years ago.

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